Published on November 30th, 2018 | by Start Fitness Website0
How to Race Cross Country
WINTER IS COMING. Who are we kidding? It’s 3 degrees and raining. Winter has well and truly arrived and it’s going to be a stark one. Together with the cold, we must reacquaint ourselves with other seasonal grievances. Runny noses. Post-Christmas blues. Shrinkage. And worst off all…getting out of bed.
Winter also sees the highly anticipated return of cross country to the running agenda. Participation in the sport has risen since W. Cross raced to victory on a ‘fearfully heavy and wet’ Wimbledon Common in the first inter-club competition over a century ago. The first race in this season’s Start Fitness Metropolitan Cross Country League experienced record numbers of female and male participants. This could well be attributed to how accessible the sport is.
A pair of spikes to remain upright. Club vest to remain distinguishable. Shorts to remain modest. And you’re good to go. However, if a competitive edge is what you desire, read on.
Cross country requires the ability to recover fast…fast
Cross country differs from other forms of racing. There is often an emphasis in track and road racing to run at a consistent pace. Meaning effort levels increase gradually as it gets harder to sustain the same pace.
In cross country, an athlete can be at their limit from the start. And again at multiple stages throughout the race as they traverse hills and negotiate sodden ground. As such, racing cross country requires an ability to recover fast…fast.
The faster an athlete can recover after a hard effort and the faster the running speed at which the athlete recovers, the more successful they will be at racing cross country.
To that end. Cross country isn’t about racing the clock. It’s about racing the course. Racing the conditions. Racing the competition.
You can’t win a race from the start but you can lose it
The first rule about the start of a cross country race. Don’t miss it.
Beyond that, an athlete need only concern themselves with the age-old dilemma of how fast to start. Start too quickly and risk expending too much too soon. Start too slowly and risk getting stuck behind a queue of slower runners. One thing’s for certain. Positioning is key.
Misjudge the start and an athlete may never find themselves in the position they deserve. Late on in the race, an athlete may well be running at the same pace as a competitor 50 places ahead. Narrow courses, steep hills and energy-sapping mud make it difficult to find the change in pace needed to overtake towards the end of the race when fatigue is setting in. The decisions an athlete makes at the beginning of the race can heavily impact their position come the end.
Start with intent and get into the position you deserve early on while you’re still fresh.
Don’t make the hardest parts harder
It may sound counter-intuitive but there is little to gain by an athlete overexerting themselves on the hardest parts of the course. Namely, the hilliest parts.
The athlete runs the risk of expending too much energy, requiring longer to recover once the hill has finished. Meaning they are running slower on an easier, flatter part of the course.
Stay controlled. Focus your efforts on pushing off the top of the hill. There are bigger gains to be had as other athletes slow down to recover, while you speed up having conserved energy climbing the hill.
Totally immerse yourself in the act of racing
Cross country racing not only requires physical fitness. It requires mental strength and an ability to push your pain thresholds.
During longer road races there may be sections where it is beneficial to switch off and let the miles tick by. Switching off during a cross country race could spell disaster. An athlete may get caught by surprise. Either by a technical section of the course. Or by the sudden shock of the increased effort required to run uphill.
Learn to stay focused throughout the entirety of the race. Be proactive in thinking your way around the course. Be aware of your effort and when to expect to work harder. When to recover. When to catch the athletes ahead. Totally immerse yourself in the act of racing.
Let the finish happen naturally
Many athletes feel anxious when approaching the finish of a race. It’s the expectation of experiencing further pain as the athlete sprints towards the line.
If you have managed to execute all of the above, there will be little pressure on the strength of your finish. 99% of the work is done. Stay focused on the race. Remain in control and let the finish happen naturally.
You may just surprise yourself with a kick you never knew you had.